The Three Words That Will Haunt "60 Minutes": "We Were Wrong"

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Chez Pazienza
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Shh. Don't tell Ben I was here.

If you want to feel really, really uncomfortable for about four-and-a-half minutes, watch Lara Logan on CBS This Morning trying to explain how she and 60 Minutes got their big bombshell story on Benghazi so horrifically wrong. Watch her come right out and say, unequivocally, "We were wrong." If it weren't for the incompetence necessary to make such a galactic screw-up possible, you'd almost feel sorry for Logan and the entire network.

It's tough to overstate just what kind of an impact this revelation has on CBS News and on 60 Minutes as an icon of impeccable journalistic standards. Considering the impact of the report, the immediate demands by some in Congress for new investigations in the wake of it, those calling for an independent investigation within CBS to figure out what happened aren't blowing things out of proportion. 60 Minutes essentially accused the Obama administration of lying, or at least of covering up the truth, when it turns out they were the ones buying wholly into a lie.

The question is why? Why did a news magazine with the kind of near-flawless record of 60 Minutes Sunday edition -- which make no mistake is the sanctified centerpiece of not only every other satellite 60 Minutes show CBS has spun-off over the years but of CBS as a news department and network -- somehow fail to properly vet an interview subject upon which the entire premise of their story hinged? It's not like Lara Logan is a partisan hack, certainly to the point of wanting to endanger her credibility and career, and it's obvious that there was no "Jerry Dantana" cooking one piece of video behind the scenes. The failure on the part of 60 Minutes was profound and systemic -- and maybe that's what's most disconcerting about it. It would almost be better if they could point to one person and, at least initially, surgically remove him or her -- but the issues run much deeper than that.

Here's the thing, though: More than likely whoever takes the fall for this won't be the one who's completely to blame. While 60 Minutes takes its journalistic process and its reputation for thoroughness deathly seriously, institutionally there should be little doubt that it can still become victim to corporate culture. And that culture means that the CBS family is just that, a family, and one that can for the most part be trusted. The story Dylan Davies told on 60 Minutes is the same story he told in his memoir, the one a Simon & Schuster imprint would be publishing two days after the Lara Logan piece aired. Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS. Now no one's saying that CBS corporate made a phone call and leaned on 60 Minutes to promote its upcoming Simon & Schuster release or that 60 Minutes willingly wanted to do the mothership a favor. But even a news organization with the exacting standards of 60 Minutes can be susceptible to human nature and may have unwittingly relaxed a little, believing that Davies had already been vetted by a CBS entity and therefore could at least be given the benefit of the doubt.

It should go completely without saying that in the minds of those who've spent the past year rabidly chasing down some kind of scandal within the Benghazi tragedy, any 60 Minutes retraction will be meaningless. For a year they based their firmly held views on facts that had always been pulled directly out of their asses, so as far as they're concerned this will just be a case of liberals putting pressure on truth-tellers to back off and the Obama administration smearing a whistleblower. That's why the impact of Logan's initial report should be taken into consideration when considering what kind of punitive action needs to be taken in the wake of this fiasco. Unless it's proved that she recklessly pushed for Davies, it's doubtful Logan will lose her job; she's simply too popular within CBS News and as a correspondent. She sells tickets, and that matters.

But she will and probably should be ashamed to show her face for a while, particularly after defending her story so vehemently for almost two weeks, despite very serious questions arising about it. The same goes for 60 Minutes; it stood firmly behind a story that turned out to be crap, either saying nothing or calling critics of the piece agenda-driven partisans. But scandal has a way of not sticking these days. And even though I have no doubt things are pretty funereal throughout the halls and offices of 60 Minutes today and will remain so for a while, it'll rebound eventually, hopefully with a renewed sense of ethical purpose and a series of new safeguards in place -- despite that nasty, indelible stain.

The thing is I'm not sure any of it even matters anymore, considering that these days people only believe what they want to anyway.